Right-handed starter Jose Contreras has found a home with the White Sox.
"This is hands down the best part of my career right now," Contreras said through his interpreter Ozzie Guillen Jr. "I've gotten the most wins since I've been here. This is the best run I've had, and I hope there's more to come of it."
The right-hander went 15-7 with a 3.61 ERA for the White Sox in 2005, establishing career highs in victories, starts (32) and innings (204 2/3). This postseason, he is 1-1 with a 2.81 ERA in 16 innings.
He was charged with three runs and seven hits in 8 1/3 strong innings for the loss in Game 1 of the American League Championship Series against the Angels in Chicago.
Contreras is scheduled to pitch Game 5 of the ALCS. The venue has changed. Contreras' plan has not.
"I'm going to attack them the same way I have in the past and the same way I did last time," Contreras said. "I think that's the key against every Major League team, throw strikes and attack them. I don't think my game plan is going to change, anything at all."
A big part of Contreras' success this season is his comfort level. When he pitched for the Cuban national team, he felt the weight of an entire country on his shoulders. When he arrived in the United States to pitch for the Yankees, some would argue that pressure was even greater.
It went from bad to worse.
"All of a sudden, this kid was tipping pitches," Guillen said. "The confidence is not there because the mentality of this kid, when they fail, they think that, 'I let the people down, I let my manager down, I let my fans, I let my teammates down,' because that's what they think where he comes from. ... Most of the time when Jose has a tough time, he always says something like, 'I let you down. I let the team down.' I say, 'Don't worry about it. There's a lot of people who let people down and next time be better.'"
That's a good thing.
"It's been an honor to be his teammate and be his friend," Contreras said. "Everyone knows the success El Duque has had in Cuba and in Major League Baseball. Not only for me, El Duque helps out the whole team. He brings so much knowledge to the table that I think every pitcher has got a little something from him "
Contreras is also quick to praise White Sox pitching coach Don Cooper.
"My success is a lot due to Cooper and the patience he's had with me since last year and through the first half and now," Contreras said. "Coop understands us, lets us do what we think is best, and we feed off each other very well. He's been a great part of our success."
Guillen's ability to incorporate a fun yet business-like atmosphere is something Contreras has come to appreciate. He respects his manager so much, the pitcher does not dread seeing him come out to the mound during a game for a chat.
"He usually comes out there and tells us, 'Stay relaxed, think about the batter,'" Contreras said. "He tells us, 'Don't pitch to this guy this way.' Basically comes out there to make us feel relaxed and think about the situation, not get overexcited."
In other words, Guillen reminds the pitcher to make himself at home.
Jesse Sanchez is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.